High Park fire update: 85 percent containment, many subdivisions reopened

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Update, June 28, 6:35 a.m.: For nearly three weeks, the High Park fire outside of Fort Collins has been the highest-profile blaze in Colorado, and arguably the nation as a whole. Given yesterday's startling developments with the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs, which consumed an estimated 300 homes-plus and more than doubled in size, that's no longer the case. But even if High Park firefighters finally appear to be gaining the upper hand, they can't rest on their laurels yet. Last night's update on the federal InciWeb page focusing on High Park contains comparatively good news. The acreage consumed or engaged by the blaze stands at 87,284, meaning the fire didn't grow along its perimeter. Neither did the number of homes confirmed destroyed: 257, which stands as the current record for a Colorado wildfire -- although it'll be surpassed by Waldo Canyon once conditions in the Springs allow for a final count. And the containment ratcheted up again, this time to 75 percent. Granted, there have been other positive days since High Park sparked to life earlier this month -- and many of them have been followed by grim setbacks. This time, though, fire managers are confident enough to have started sharing resources with crews fighting other fires in the state. The number of personnel at High Park is down to 1,313, the Larimer County Sheriff's Office notes, and while that's still a veritable army, it's down by about 700 from the largest sum. More good news: At 5 p.m. yesterday, authorities reopened Red Feather Lakes Road and allowed all residents of the Glacier View subdivisions save one to return to the area. The exception: The 12th Filing of Glacier View remains off-limits.

The weather conditions remain a problem, with high temperatures and low humidity forecast, and plenty of fuel is still available. With that in mind, the firefighting force will continue to hold and reinforce the current lines even as they begin mop-up operations in certain areas. Remote-sensing data from helicopters will also be analyzed to locate heat pockets in areas that have not yet been burned. Additionally, hazardous trees are being removed from roadways to allow power companies to restore electricity for residents being reintegrated into the community.

A return to normalcy? Not yet -- but there's hope. Look below to see more photos courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service, followed by our previous coverage.

Update, 5:55 a.m. June 27: Other blazes across the state, including the Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs, became even larger problems yesterday. But the High Park fire outside Fort Collins remains the ongoing disaster against which all others in the state are being measured -- and it's still growing. And while containment is up, from 55 percent to 65 percent, over the past 24 hours, the feds believe total containment is still more than a month away. The federal InciWeb page devoted to High Park estimates that 87,284 acres have been consumed -- an increase of about 4,000 acres in a day. The weather continues to make the work of the 1,805 personnel on the scene more difficult. The Red Flag warning on Tuesday, denoting, hot, windy conditions (marked by occasional dry lightning), marked the sixth consecutive day for the designation.

Forecasters don't expect a sudden deluge of moisture to break the hot spell. The U.S. Forest Service notes that the weather is making live and dead fuels alike available for burning, and shifting wind direction and speed, coupled with thunderstorm gusts, are causing what's described as "active torching in islands" -- meaning pockets of land in the fire zone that somehow have avoided flames thus far. Crown fires in trees continue to take place at all hours.

A mobile sensing helicopter is being used to locate the sort of heat that's capable of turning unburned areas into new concerns. Right now, there are at least seventeen choppers of assorted types on scene, as well as fixed wing support aircraft and available heavy air tankers, with "available" being the operative word. With so many fires breaking out in Colorado, and throughout the west, U.S. Forest Service resources are being stretched in what's likely an unprecedented manner. Meanwhile, the official count of destroyed homes from the Larimer County Sheriff's Office is up again, from 248 to 257. That's more residences than are in plenty of Colorado communities. In more positive news, a few residents who live in the vicinity of Red Feather Lakes Road from CR37 to Maxwell Ranch Road were allowed to return yesterday, as were a batch in the Poudre Park neighborhood along Highway 14 between Manners Lane and Hewlett Gulch Road. And the LCSO hopes for a bigger reintegration in Rist Canyon circa 5 p.m. Thursday, at which point several hundred evacuees should be able to return home, conditions allowing.

Not that folks are under any illusions about a quick resolution to this situation. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that the blaze won't reach 100 percent containment until July 30. Yes, you read right: July 30.

Look below for more new Forest Service photos, followed by our previous coverage.

Page down to see our previous coverage, including photos and videos.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts